Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Background on Burch Family, Slaves on the Berry Plantation

When the Genealogical Society prepared the Coweta County Cemetery Book in the 1980's, they only knew of one grave in the cemetery. They called it the Cole Street Cemetery because no one came forward with any other information. Cynthia Rosers put some questions on the internet and we now have more info on the Burch Family.

Background on Burch family

Abner Robert Burch was born in March 1848 in Virginia. He was possibly the slave of Robert Simms Burch who lived in Coweta County in 1835. Robert. Burch is shown in the 1859 census as owning 19 slaves and in 1855 had 25. He was a lawyer and lived in Newnan, the 5th District.

Eliza E. Smith Burch was born in February 1848 in Georgia, the daughter of George and Isabella Smith. It is possible they were slaves of Dr. Ira Smith, an early Coweta County settler from Virginia who, in 1850, owned 54 slaves. George and Isabella had five children; Eliza, Ira, Walter, Fannie and Georgia.

Abner and Eliza were married in April 1866. Charlie was the second son of Abner and Eliza. According to the 1870 Census, their eldest son, George, was born in 1867. In the 1880 Census he was listed as being a railroad postal clerk. He went to Atlanta University and married Elizabeth Cox in 1893. They lived in Fulton County. Abner and Eliza raised a second child, Wilburn (Bud) Gay. In the Census of 1870, Abner was listed as a cook and Eliza as a housekeeper. In 1887 Abner established a restaurant on E. Broad Street. He later gave Bud an interest in the restaurant and it became one of Newnan's most popular eating places well into the 1930's.

Abner and Eliza owned a large piece of property between Savannah and Burch Streets in the Chalk Level community of Newnan. The house faced Burch Street and, at one time, there was a road from Burch Street to the cemetery. Abner and Eliza were respected and prominent citizens in Newnan having large property holdings and being committed church members and contributors or the community. There is no record of either Abner or Eliza's death or place of burial. A deed dated 1911 shows George to be A. R. Burch's sole heir and family history relates that Eliza died shortly after Abner.

More History on the Slave Cemetery

History of the Farmer Street Cemetery
By Helen Bowles 2001

Local resident Bobby Olmstead grew up on Murray Street. As a child, the plot of land nearby was revered and an unwritten rule placed it off limits for play. It had for years been known as a "slave cemetery." The land held no markers, no one kept up the property but still the story of it being a burial ground for African Americans lingered. Early in 1999, Mr. Olmstead happened by a City of Newnan crew preparing to make walking paths through the property. He told them they couldn't do that because the site was a grave yard. He realized at that time, this bit of history had been forgotten. Mr. Olmstead went to Newnan Mayor Brady, told his tale and convinced the Mayor to cease development of the land.

The City, in the spring of that year, hired an archaeologist, Steve Webb, to do a historical land survey. Mr. Webb's work was completed in July and he outlined a cemetery of 4.4 acres on which there were 249 identified grave depressions and several other possible grave depressions. This little heretofore unknown plot of land was now possibly the largest slave cemetery known in the US. The story hit all the wire services as well as the national TV network news and magazines. Although, without further investigation, it is impossible to tell who is buried on this land, the evidence in Mr. Webb's survey as well as local legend and deeds lends credence to the possibility of it indeed being a slave cemetery. At the very least, it is almost certainly an African American cemetery.

An 1923 map shows a Negro Grave Yard on the site and in later maps was referred to as the "Cole Cemetery" or "Colored Cemetery." William B. Berry originally owned most of the land around the present site. He was one of Coweta County's earliest settlers and largest land owners. Deeds show transfer of the land near the cemetery by Mr. Berry to Newnan Cotton Mills in 1888. One of the provisions of this deed was to preserve the right of access of "colored people to and from their cemetery." In a deed dated 1900, other surrounding properties were sold to Newnan Cotton Mills and reference again was made to a "colored cemetery." In 1962 the property was acquired by the City of Newnan.

One lone marker remains: that of little Charlie Burch who died at the tender age of three months in 1869.

Slave Cemetery on property with Museum

Slave Cemetery Discovered in South

By Oliver Yates Libaw
Oct. 25
The solitary headstone of 3-month-old Charlie Burch was the only visible evidence hinting at a burial ground for more than 200 slaves hidden beneath a poison ivy-covered field on a hill in Newnan, Ga.

And it might have stayed that way if a group of African-American women and a society that takes its name from a Confederate Army hero hadn’t united to save the site when local officials proposed putting a recreational path through the field.

Prompted by the groups and encouraged by residents’ memories of the burial ground, archaeologists and researchers moved in and now believe the site is the largest known slave cemetery in the South. Shaded by trees, the hill in a residential district is now dotted with surveying markers and 249 orange flags identifying the likely locations of bodies buried in the field. “A lot people have always known about it,” says Ellen Ehrenhard, an archaeologist and director of the local historical society. But she said it took the city’s plan to build a network of walking trails, including one that would have passed through the cemetery field, to galvanize the groups to action. City officials have now shelved the plans.

“We want the young people here to grow up with a sense of pride in their community and in their culture, be they black or white,” said Diane Webb.

Webb is a member of the Order of Robert E. Lee, the ladies’ auxiliary group of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a Southern heritage organization that holds that Confederate leaders fought to preserve “liberty and freedom” in the Civil War.

They are working with a local African-American women’s heritage group, and other organizations to preserve the site

“We’re all here together. We’re one community,” Webb stressed.

Cotton Boom Boosted Population During the 19th century, Newnan’s population was roughly 50 percent black, as the booming cotton trade increased the demand for labor. An 1828 map shows the burial grounds were adjacent to property owned by slaveowner Andrew Berry.

The grounds most likely became a cemetery for slaves working in houses and businesses, Ehrenhard believes. The graves are arranged in clusters, perhaps indicating family groups.

Bob Olmstead, a local resident who has long believed the site was a slave cemetery, led the push to preserve the site.

“There has been no black history in Newnan until now,” said Olmstead, who is white.

Olmstead hopes the site will eventually become one of the 72,000 sites listed with the National Register, and preserved as a piece of Southern history.

Slaves were commonly buried in simple pine boxes or shrouds on the plantations of their owners, said Josh Rothman, a history professor at the University of Alabama. They were often identified only by wooden markers or stones, and careful records were seldom kept.

In 1991, some 420 skeletons of slaves were found in New York City, the largest such cemetery known.

Archaeologists at the University of Tuscaloosa have agreed to exhume two graves at the Newnan cemetery and perform DNA tests to determine the origins of the remains.

Alan Wang of ABCNEWS affiliate WSB in Atlanta contributed to this report.


(The site didn't tell what year and it was before my time (I started volunteering in May 2003) dianne Wood